Charles Darwin

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Charles Robert Darwin was a British scientist who laid the foundation of modern

evolutionary theory with his views on life development through natural selection.

He was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, on February 12, 1809.

After graduating from the elite school at Shrewsbury in 1825, Darwin

attended the University of Edinburgh where he studied medicine. In 1827 he

dropped out and entered the University of Cambridge in preparation for becoming

a clergyman of the Church of England. While there, Darwin met two important

people in his life: Adam Sedgwick, a geologist, and John Stevens Henslow, a

naturalist. After graduating from Cambridge in 1831, the 22-year-old Darwin was

taken aboard the English survey ship HMS Beagle, mainly because of Henslow's

recommendation, as an unpaid naturalist on an expedition around the world.

When the voyage began, Darwin didn't believe that species change through

time, but he did believe in two prevailing ideas of the time. The first theory was

that the earth was 6,000 years old and had remained unchanged except for the

effects of floods and other catastropes. The second was that organisms were

designed especially for certain habitats and appeared on the earth in their present


After reading the works of a noted geologist, Darwin began to change his

ideas. He saw evidence that the earth was much older than 6,000 years. In South

America, he was witness to an earthquake that lifted the land several feet. He

realized that mountains could be built by the action of an earthquake over

millions of years. He found fossils of marine mammals high up on mountains,

and realized that rocks must have been lifted from the ocean.

Darwin also studied plants and animals. On the Galapagos Islands, he

found animals that resembled animals on the South American continent, but not

exactly the same. He understood that they must have come to the islands from

the mainland, and then adapted into new species. He also observed the plant and

animal life of South America, oceanic islands, and the Far East. He noted many

examples that proved that animals in similar environments didn't always look the

same. For example, the emus of Australia and the rheas of South America are

two very distinct species, but they live in the same basic kind of habitat. Darwin

thought about this, and asked himself the question, if animals were formed for a

specific habitat, why would different species be found in habitats that are so


After leaving the HMS Beagle and returning to England in 1836, Darwin

began recording his ideas about changeability of species in his Notebooks on the

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